Just in case the Superman branding currently on the site wasn’t a clear enough clue, Myspace has proven itself to be utterly unusable for serious tasks by allowing an adware company to place its ads on their site. If you’re running Internet Explorer, you’ll either get a prompt asking you if you’d like to install an innocuous-sounding piece of software – or if your security settings are low enough, it’ll install itself without even asking you. From then on in, it’s random popup ad city.
This ought to be common sense, but I mention it because from time to time I still read about educators deciding to create Myspace communities for tutorial groups and so on. Let’s be clear: this is madness. Unless, that is, you actively want your students to install random software on their machines, receive unwanted solicitations from overage men, and attract the wrath and worry of each and every parent.
However, this usage raises an interesting question, particularly as Myspace has just risen to be the #1 website in the US bar none: why do people use it? Is the biggest pull for engagement intrinsic to the system itself, or is it just that there’s such a large established userbase? Speaking for myself, I joined just to see what it was all about, but an array of old friends and coworkers found me – and now, I must confess, I check in every couple of days to see what people are up to. With this kind of pull from sheer numbers, it’s difficult to see how anything else can compete.
But in education, the key is to not compete. You don’t want to create another Myspace on campus; what would be the point? Institutional online community environments have a different focus, which is much narrower and yet richer than a broad-ranging community site like Myspace. Your students are very likely going to have accounts there too, but if they find that the community easily provides content and collaboration with people in their surrounding environment, in a way that gives them the freedom to do so without feeling too constrained by policy and the desire to quantify engagement, I think they’ll come. Myspace is a very big fish, but it needn’t be the only one in the sea.